By Shereen Siewert

The owner of a Wisconsin cheese factory is accused of defrauding 83 farmers in Wood County and is now facing felony charges, according to Attorney General Josh Kaul.

Michael Moran is being summoned into Wood County Circuit Court to face a charge of felony theft. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

Police and prosecutors say Moran’s business, Dairy State Cheese Co. in Rudolph, forged the names of farmers on underpayment checks and converted the funds for his own use or the use of others.

Processors, such as cheese plants, write underpayment checks to producers, such as dairy farmers, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture sets the price of milk higher than what a processor initially paid for the milk. USDA auditors determine the amount of underpayment and order processors to issue the underpayment checks.

The complaint claims that after the defendant would forge the payees’ signatures on the back of the checks, he would then place them in the cash register at the cheese store thereby converting them for his own use, all without the consent of the payees.

The checks from the register would then be taken together to the bank at the end of the week and deposited.

Approximately 83 milk producers are reported to have been victimized in the scheme. The total loses for these 83 milk producers amounts to $21,250.97.

Of the victims, 21 are over 60 years old.

This case is prosecuted by the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) Division of Legal Services (DLS) Criminal Litigation Unit Assistant Attorney General Dan Lennington. The investigation is led by the DOJ Division of Criminal Investigation, with assistance from the USDA Office of Inspector General.

“Wisconsin’s dairy farmers are in the midst of a crisis,” said Attorney General Kaul. “It’s particularly galling that theft alleged in this case resulted in money being stolen from milk producers during such a difficult time.”

An appearance for Moran is set for Feb. 24.